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Paul Theroux left Victoria Station on a rainy Saturday in April thinking that taking eight trains across Europe, Eastern Europe, the USSR and Mongolia would be the easy way to get to the Chinese border – the relaxing way, even. He would read a little, take notes, eat regular meals and gaze contentedly out of windows. The reality, of course, was very different.In fact, TherPaul Theroux left Victoria Station on a rainy Saturday in April thinking that taking eight trains across Europe, Eastern Europe, the USSR and Mongolia would be the easy way to get to the Chinese border – the relaxing way, even. He would read a little, take notes, eat regular meals and gaze contentedly out of windows. The reality, of course, was very different.In fact, Theroux experienced a decidedly odd and unexpected trip to China that set the challenging tone for his epic year-long rail journey around that vast, inscrutable land – a journey which involved riding nearly every train in the country.‘Wry, humorful and occasionally querulous … as Theroux makes excruciatingly clear, travelling alone in the Middle Kingdom is not for the faint of heart or stomach’ Time....

Title : Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train Through China
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ISBN : 9780140112955
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 487 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train Through China Reviews

  • Jeff
    2019-05-25 06:28

    The nice thing about buying books by the box at a used book sale is that I’ll take a chance on something I normally wouldn’t pick up at full price. In this case it was a travelogue. Paul Theroux’s travels through China took place in the mid ‘80’s, which makes most of the political content somewhat dated (not to mention repetitive to the Nth degree). Everyone in China that he comes across gets questioned about the changes in the political climate, specifically the differences between Mao and the reforms of Deng (the Chinese leader at the time the book was written). Over and over again. Ad nauseam. The book also has a tendency to drag at times. With that said, Theroux’s humor and keen eye for detail carry the day. The anecdotes that book-end his travels are priceless. The first revolves around his initial journey to China with a tour group and his snarky remarks written about the group and the stops along the way. The drive to Tibet at the end of the book is memorably rendered and caps off the book quite nicely.Some of the reviews of this book on Goodreads characterize Theroux as someone who “hates people”. That’s kind of a broad brush stroke to peg Theroux as some sort of misanthrope. Sure he poked fun at the travel group but that attitude, for the most part, didn’t carry over to his views of the people he encountered in China. I would assume most people pick up his travelogues for his POV and not specifically the destinations and in this book he's generally pretty even-handed in his portrayals of the people he meets.

  • mark monday
    2019-05-16 05:07

    3 Things about Riding the Iron Rooster:(1) land sakes, Paul Theroux does not like human beings! he seem like a very disdainful and contemptuous person in general. that disdain and contempt certainly includes the Chinese - which was an off-putting and distancing thing to experience when reading a travelogue concerning China. at times it really got to me and i found myself disdainful and contemptuous of the author in return. he began to drive me up the wall with - as another reviewer notes - his relentlessly consistent authorial voice. i'd have to remind myself that he also wrote The Mosquito Coast, which besides being my dad's favorite film (scary, that), is all about escaping from the dirty, disgusting world of conformist, unimaginative humans - and the terrible dangers that can arise from that sort of mentality. so it's not like Theroux doesn't have a good read on his own personality and his maybe-not-so-secret desires. and that's kind of admirable.(2) i read this side-by-side with Mark Salzman's Iron and Silk. the contrast between the two was illuminating. on the one hand, Salzman seems like such a decent and sweet guy, someone i'd like to know. his book is very well-intentioned... and, sadly, sorta vapid. it has no teeth and no bite, just a soft babyish gumming of sorts. the writing is also basically uninteresting. on the other hand, Theroux, who is a person i have no interest in knowing, is all bite (and lots of bark too). he lets you know his thoughts and he is fearless when it comes to being percieved as a snotty asshole. he doesn't care and he writes it like he sees it. his writing may be bleak, but it is also very real. this is a man who looks at the ugly side of things and reports on it in prose that is often exceedingly impressive. but still rather ugly.(3) apparently people who regularly sleep in (as i do) have homes that smell "feety". you know, like feet. huh. i did not realize this and i'm not sure if this is true. i think this is another example of Theroux being a dick regarding habits he disdains. oh, Paul.

  • Caroline
    2019-05-19 06:23

    For most of us the glass is either half empty or half full. But some take it further. Over there in the corner sits Paul Theroux, sniffing grumpily at the chlorine in his paltry dose of water, and absently scratching at the thick coating of limescale on the side of the glass. In his pocket sits his notebook, which later he shall use to diss both the water and the waitress.Why do we put up with it? We put up with it because the man is brilliant.This was my first Theroux read, and what a delight it was. Okay, so there is nothing he likes more than prodding the underbelly of life – why else would you spend a year travelling around China on the railways in 1986? He knew what he was getting into – he’d done it before. But even for a rough-around-the-edges stoic like Theroux, it must have been a serious challenge….and to do it for a whole year too. It would have killed me.His encounters with the Chinese are not a touchy-feely meeting of minds; quite the opposite. He especially dislikes the guides who are allocated to him by the Chinese authorities. One of them almost kills him in a car crash, in part because Theroux won’t tell him to slow down, even when they reach ludicrous speeds. His leave taking of another guide is described thus:When the whistle of my approaching train blew I took off my sheepskin mittens, my scarf, and the winter hat I had bought for this cold place. I handed them to Mr Tian.“I won’t need them in Dalian”, I said.Mr Tian shrugged, shook my hand, and without another word walked off. It was the Chinese farewell: there was no lingering, no swapping of addresses, no reminiscence, nothing sentimental. At the moment of parting they turned their back, because you ceased to matter and because they had so much else to worry about.Time and time again his comments about the Chinese are less than complimentary. Herewith one of his many descriptions about the joys of Chinese train travel, much of which seemed truly horrible in a variety of different ways…On these one-day railway trips, the Chinese could practically overwhelm a train with their garbage. Nearly everyone on board was befouling the available space. While I sat and read I noticed that the people opposite, after only a few hours, had amassed on their table…… duck bones, fish bones, peanut shells, cookie wrappers, sunflower seed husks, three teacups, two tumblers, a thermos, a wine bottle, two food tins, spittings, leavings, orange rinds, prawn shells and two used nappies.They could be very tidy, but there was also something sluttishly comfortable about an accumulation of garbage, as though it were a symbol of prosperity.In the north of China he makes us feel the cold, right down to our bones.It was 5.30 on a Harbin morning, the temperature at minus thirty-five Centigrade and a light snow falling – little grains like seed-pearls sifting down in the dark. When the flurry stopped the wind picked up, and it was murderous. Full on my face it was like being slashed with a razor…. The wind dropped by the cold remained. It banged against my forehead and twisted my fingers and toes: it burned my lips…I entered the station waiting-room and a chill rolled against me, as if my face had been pressed on a cold slab.And he does this sort of evocation with every place he visits. There is an acute sense of being there with him, sharing the intense experiences of his journey. Theroux finally emerges from his smouldering disgruntlement when he reaches Tibet, towards the end of his travels. Here we get to share his enthusiasm for this land and its people. He actually set off on the trip taking with him 50 pictures of the Dalai Lama, to give away as presents, suggesting an affiliation with Tibet even before he started the trip.This valley was steep and cold, and half in darkness it was so deep. A river ran swiftly through it with birds darting from one wet boulder to another. ….When we emerged from this valley we were higher, and among steep mountainsides and bluer, snowier peaks. We travelled along this riverside in a burst of evening sunshine…The valley opened wider, became sunnier and very dry; and beyond the beautiful bare hills of twinkling scree there were mountains covered with frothy snow….In the distance was a red and white building, with sloping sides – the Potala, so lovely, somewhat like a mountain and somewhat like a music-box with a hammered gold lid.I had never felt happier, rolling into a town.It was good to end on an upbeat note, and know that even lemon-sucking Theroux has a capacity for wonder.In spite of his largely petulant approach to life, I thought this was a marvellous book by a great writer.

  • Lara Messersmith-Glavin
    2019-05-04 04:24

    This book exhausted me. 450 pages of train rides, blurred landscapes, glib conversations, and Paul Theroux's relentlessly consistent authorial voice throughout, cramming in detail after detail from a year-long journey throughout China in 1987; it became a reading challenge more than a pleasure. I wasn't about to get off the train in Heilongjiang, worn out around page 300, not because I was so riveted, but rather because I wanted to know if he would ever bring it all together, if his partial and often repetitious reflections would ever coalesce into a larger meditation - his consciousness of travel writing as autobiography does little to bring out critical reflections of his own judgments. I suppose he did, in part, take me as a reader to a final destination that put the rest of the trip into a clearer perspective. I will not spoil the details, but I can easily say that the last chapter makes the whole endurance-read worthwhile, especially under the conditions in which I experienced it: that is, living in Chengdu, the last big city before the Tibetan frontier, in the middle of the largest Tibetan uprising since 1959, only two months before Beijing is to host the 2008 Olympic games. His fondness for Tibet and the risks he takes to be there are sentiments I hold close to my heart.Both the greatest fascination and largest frustrations I felt with this book stemmed from the inevitable constant comparisons I made with my own China experiences. Of course, the country in which I live is not the same as the one he visited, separated as we are by not only two very different personalities and purposes, but also two decades of monumental attitudinal and political change. The China Theroux explores is one just emerging from its era of isolation, and is in a breathless and mistrustful, albeit hopeful, period of testing the air let in from Deng Xiaoping's open-door policies. People seem eager to talk to Theroux, (although it is often unclear which language they are using - his Chinese seems to be much better than mine). After 7 months in one place, I have yet to be invited into someone's home. The yuan is stronger against the dollar in 1987 than it is now; bicycles are still a dominant form of transportation in many areas; the Cultural Revolution is still a topic of regretful conversation; the Internet has yet to consume the minds of the youth, and the one-child policy has yet to produce its generation of solipsistic princelings and career-driven princesses. He spends pages admiring Chinese craftsmanship in the objects of daily life: locks, clocks, fountain pens. I wonder how it is that these things could have changed so quickly: my bicycle lock can be unhinged by a sharp gust of wind. I also wonder how much the introduction of American consumer demands for cheap crap have contributed to the downward spiral.Perhaps the most chilling inconsistency between his China and the one I see every day is the absence of the events in Tian an'men Square in 1989. He discusses student protests in passing, and he and others make innocent predictions: "they will amount to nothing," most say. "They do not have the courage," or even, "Things are different now - the State will do little in response. It will all blow over." My edition of this book was published in 1988; I cannot help but wonder if he added a note to later editions, a comment in retrospect on the irony of these passing predictions, all laid bare and sadly naive in the glare of more recent Chinese history.Many things are, of course, the same, and so familiar I laughed out loud: the shrieking into telephones; the utter lack of safety precautions anywhere; the staggering, ultraplanetary beauty of the Tibetan landscape; the impossible yet tenacious geometry of the rice terraces; the gross views afforded by public trench-style squat toilets; the luscious smells of steamed dumplings; the ubiquitous hawking of lougies and spitting on the floor in restaurants, classrooms, buses, bars. Theroux is a fine writer; his attention to human detail is commendable, and, unlike most travel writers, he admits to his own presence in a clear and responsible fashion - you cannot pretend that the experiences he puts forth are your own. You are simply sitting beside him, privy to his thoughts. The book is a rambling chain of anecdotes, prone to repeating observations at times, but also giving a genuine warmth to each new interaction as characters come in and out of view, and offering a due nod to the immense cultural complexity of a place like China, unified in many ways only by government.An unwieldy and tiring book, but full of fascinating detail and unusually privileged insight - and occasionally, funny as hell.

  • Missy J
    2019-05-17 09:13

    "...any travel book revealed more about the traveller than it did about the country."For the 3rd consecutive year, I have made it a point to read one Paul Theroux travel book at the beginning of the year. On Goodreads, there are many unfavorable reviews who criticize that Theroux is judgmental and consistently disparaging his co-travelers and the places he visits. Funny enough, I don't get that impression at all. I find that Theroux writes very honestly and doesn't want to romanticize the places he travels to nor travelling itself. He is not afraid to bring forward his opinion and see the self-destructiveness of mass-tourism. Especially in China, Theroux notices that there's more to be experienced in interacting with the people and searching for nature. I love how original his thoughts are!"Sightseeing is one of the more doubtful aspects of travel, and in China it is one of the least rewarding things a traveller can do - primarily a distraction and seldom even an amusement. It has all the boredom and ritual of a pilgrimage and none of the spiritual benefits."I was very excited to read this book. In the 80s, Theroux embarked on his second trip to China, making it a point to take every train possible to visit every corner of the country. I have taken several trains in China myself, but at a much later time than Theroux. His experience is based on China in the 80s and over 30 plus years later, the country has changed so much. For me, it was interesting to compare what Theroux wrote with what I have experienced or know. For example, Theroux loved his time in Tibet and how isolated it was from the rest of China. Since 2006, one can take a train from several Chinese cities all the way to Lhasa. That's a big change. "You have to see Tibet to understand the Chinese. And anyone apologetic or sentimental about Chinese reform had to reckon with Tibet as a reminder of how harsh, how tenacious and materialistic, how insensitive China could be."The book starts out in London and the first chapter sees Theroux part of a tourist group crossing through Europe and Russia into Mongolia via the Trans-Siberian Express. After that he is pretty much on his own. He visits 3 big Chinese cities (Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou) before embarking for the more rural places. However, that's when the Chinese government notices that there's a white guy travelling to these remote parts of China and thus, keep sending a chaperone to accompany Theroux (it happens in Xinjiang, Tibet, Heilongjiang, Yunnan...). Three years ago, I visited several small Tibetan villages (outside of Tibet) in Gansu province and I noticed that every monk that led a tour group through the monastery was accompanied by a Han Chinese man, who made sure the monk wouldn't start talking about the Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence. Two interesting quotes on Hong Kong:'Maybe the Chinese government will straighten things out when they take over Hong Kong.''No. They will ruin it. No democracy.''There's no democracy there now. It's a British colony. The Governor-General is appointed. And the strange thing is,' I said, because I had suddenly realized what a political anachronism Hong Kong was, 'very few people actually speak English in Hong Kong.''We speak Cantonese.''That's the point. It's part of Guangdong province, really. British culture didn't sink in. It's all Cantonese.'"This sleeping-car was all Hong Kongers in screechy ski-suits. They had travelled non-stop from Kowloon. They had never before been to China, had never seen snow; their English was very poor - and yet they were colonial subjects of the British crown. They did not speak Mandarin. Like most Hong Kongers I had met they were complete provincials, with laughable pretensions. Was it the effect of colonialism? They were well fed and rather silly and politically naive. In some ways Hong Kong was somewhat like Britain itself: a bunch of offshore islands with an immigrant problem, a language barrier and a rigid class-system."I can't wait to read the next Paul Theroux book!One of the Boxer chants in 1900 was:'Surely government banner men are many;Certainly foreign soldiers a horde;But if each of our people spits once. They will drown banner men and invaders together.' (Poems of Revolt, Peking, 1962)

  • Daren
    2019-04-24 02:29

    A year in China in the mid 1980's. Pretty much if the train went there, so did Theroux.He is a cynical man, who generally dislikes more than he likes, but he manages to describe fantastically what it is he doesn't like!I enjoyed this more than The Great Railway Bazaar and The Old Patagonian Express, although they are very similar in style.The first chapter was enough to convince me I would enjoy this book. It tells of Theroux joining a group tour from London to China by train. Why he ever thought that would be a good idea I don't know. The awful people, the grating discomfort of being stuck with them the whole time, all so accurately described. Also amusing that they didn't know who he was, and discussing the Great Railway Bazaar.So on into China, where each train trip is described, along with his fellow travellers, then his exploring of the destination, and again, the people he meets.I particularly enjoyed the way Theroux interprets the ubiquitous Chinese laugh, used at the end of a sentence to express any number of things."The laugh meant emphatically Don't bring that up.""This ha-ha meant Rules are rules. I don't make them , so you should not be difficult.""...the chattering laugh that means You have just asked me a tactless question, but I will answer anyway.""This laugh meant You are a fool.""His laugh was urgent, and meant No questions please!""It was one of the few genuine laughs in China. It meant We can always fool a foreigner!"An insightful mixture of travel, history, geography & sociology.

  • Michelle
    2019-05-08 05:35

    We moved to China this year, largely ignorant of China's history, both recent and ancient. This book was incredibly eye-opening as to what the cultural revolution entailed, what it did to Chinese culture and people, and how much things have changed here since the book was written. Theroux captures the essence of China quite clearly for us. While he seems unlikeable or crabby at times, he is also very real and very clear about what travelers oftentimes must endure for the sake of a journey, of learning, of stretching.

  • Patrick O'Connell
    2019-04-26 09:12

    Want to understand China? Read this along with Peter Hessler's Rivertown and you will get a pretty good picture.Unlike most travel writers, Theroux is cynical, and accordingly perhaps a little more insightful. Anne Tyler may have written "The Accidental Tourist", but Theroux is certainly the reluctant tourist.

  • Erwin Maack
    2019-05-16 09:34

    “Podemos sempre enganar um forasteiro”. Este é o provérbio chinês que o autor pretendeu desmentir ao penetrar nos meandros daquele mundo distante, ancião, com quarenta séculos de história registrada, e cujo tempo tem dimensão própria, diferente da nossa. Perambulou pela China desde Mongólia ao Cantão, de oeste a leste, ele conseguiu vivenciar todo tempo o quanto foi forasteiro. Em cada risada, em cada expressão, ele conseguiu entender o que se queria dizer, que nada tinha de engraçado. Ele nos serviu e servirá como legenda das diversas gargalhadas. Entretanto ele não conseguiu acesso à alma chinesa. Dos motivos profundos das suas atitudes e comportamentos. Apenas conseguiu se parecer com um chinês, nos hábitos, na indiferença, ou complacência pelo exótico e o diferente. Porém, jamais foi ou conseguirá ser um deles. Essa é a impressão que o livro deixa. Cada ser humano ao nascer parece embutir histórias cujo teor ele desconhece, mas ainda assim, elas estão lá em suas reações, sem que ele mesmo saiba o porquê daquilo. E tampouco nós ficamos sabendo ao terminando. Outros autores escrevem que a China é um império imóvel. Mesmo que seu povo percorra de trem por todo lado, não conseguimos desmentir a imobilidade do império. Eles têm o hábito de fazer um balanço político a cada sessenta anos, por isso mesmo, sabem do caráter passageiro de tudo, e aproveitam o seu dia ao máximo, certos de que tudo irá mudar.Apreciamos com curiosidade a dificuldade dele em se desviar dos guias “sugeridos” para acompanhar suas visitas, mostrou incansavelmente o repúdio de toda população contra o Bando dos Quatro e a Revolução Cultural que devastou a vida chinesa àquela época. E só encontrou paz e sossego no Tibete. Um lugar que apesar de inexorável e insistentemente assediado pelo império não se rendeu e continuou estrangeiro. Tanto o Tibete quanto Paul Theroux, ambos forasteiros. Contudo, o Tibete desmente o adágio e não se deixou enganar. Fica ao seu leitor habitual a impressão de superficialismo e apelo ao exótico, burlesco e escatológico (o que inclui uma fisiologia do cuspe), sem o compromisso da análise imparcial. Páginas recheadas de pessoas confirmando suas impressões, querendo confirmar seus pontos de vista. O contato com alguns mandarins (sim, eles ainda existem) foi bastante rápido e se limitou a comentar obras ocidentais. A China continua um mistério, um escritor indicado pelo próprio Theroux, escreveu vinte e sete volumes, relatando a dimensão da obra daquele povo e falaceu insatisfeito.

  • Eric_W
    2019-05-05 04:09

    Among the first inventions of the Chinese were such things as toilet paper (they were enamored with paper and in fact invented a paper armor consisting of pleats which were impervious to arrows), the spinning wheel, seismograph, steam engine (as early as 600 A.D.) and parachute hang gliders in 550-559 B.C. which they tested by throwing prisoners off towers. This same country, according to Paul Theroux in Riding the Iron Rooster, is driving many animals to extinction. The Chinese like to eat strange foods and are superstitious about the medicinal value of exotic animals who achieve status not from individual beauty or from intrinsic qualities, but because they taste good. Theroux, who has a passion for trains, wandering, and gossip, found many changes in China since his first visit of several years earlier. People were much freer and willing to talk. Theroux's writing is fascinating because he's so nosy. He's not afraid to ask anything. And he notices everything. It's his way of "getting the measure of a place." If he sees someone reading he makes note of the title, memorizes the contents of refrigerators, labels in clothes, compares prices, copies graffiti and slogans, and collects hotel rules. My favorite: "Guests may not perform urination in sink basin." At one point he was forced to fly to catch a particular train and his description is particularly revolting; people standing in the aisles while landing, puking, the plane popping wheelies on the runway, the aircraft itself having wrinkled skin. The cultural revolution was uniformly hated by everyone he spoke with and the change in the people could be measured by the change in their slogans. Formerly when students were asked what they wanted to do with themselves they would reply, "to serve people." A book filled with interesting tidbits.I should note, as an avid reader of Airways magazine that airlines in China have improved tremendously, have terrific equipment today, and service standards far exceeding United's. Theroux's book is quite dated in that respect.

  • Elaine
    2019-05-02 03:10

    This is an account of over a year Theroux spent exploring China in the 1980s.He writes a very detailed account of every landscape,meal and conversation he had during that time [not quite but it sometimes feels that way!]. Theroux is not afraid to ask intrusive questions of anyone he meets and has a certain lack of tact about what subject to address ie, nothing stops him.He did find,however, that while the Chinese simply didn't answer if they didn't want to they were very open and candid in talking about Chinese politics and history.Theroux is a great writer and makes the whole thing very interesting.He has a way with words,frequent humour and his style flows easily.I know many people dislike his attitude towards other nationalities,finding him superior and condescending and that this spoils the whole experience for them. I do agree to an extent and I was annoyed at times by his know-it-all manner and patronising behavior. However I did manage to separate the book from the author's personality.A good travel book should not only inform you about a country but make you want to be there and this book achieved that for me. It also whetted my appetite to learn more and left me more knowledgeable about Chinese geography, history. politics and people than I was previously.About two thirds of the way through I started to struggle to finish. There's only so many very similar train journeys,followed by stop offs at cities or towns that my brain could endure and at this point the endless detail became tedious and everything merged into a boring sameness.I confess I skipped bits to reach the end and complete the book.For this reason it was a 3 star read rather than 4.I do wonder if Theroux has written a travel book about North America were he is as rude and condescending about Americans as he is about all other nationalities.If so I guess I don't mind;its simply his style.If not though, He really must have a superiority complex!

  • L.J.
    2019-05-20 05:19

    A gem of a book from Theroux. Having read several of his train travel books (and his paddling book in the South Pacific) I have not been disappointed with his travel narratives. Because the book takes place so many years ago it would be interesting to get a follow-up from him, but as for reading it now it is still a grand adventure through China to places most people are not exposed. I enjoyed his description of the South and the coastal area near Vietnam and was very interested in his experience in the Tibetan sector. Paul is not a open humorist like Bryson so you get a less sanguine view of places, but these are travel books of the sort that a good writer writes, not an advice column or a historical record taking journey. Theroux devours places and mixes in the odd sorts that he encounters on his journeys, but his books always top on getting the descriptive view to the reader and the 'feel' as a non-native of a place without too much interpretation. I have reread this as it was one I enjoyed that much.

  • Megs
    2019-05-20 08:31

    I was so excited to pick up this book because it is about a man's journey across Europe into China via rail. The author's travels took place in the 1980's and I was interested in learning more about China and seeing it through a visitor's eye, hopefully with some insight. I got halfway through the book, and just couldn't take it anymore. The author's ego is giant, he complains constantly about food and accommodation, and the worst part is that he is condescending towards his contemporary Chinese citizen and and his/her culture. I tried to stick it out just to learn more about China, but absolutely could not take one more word out of this author's book. Do not read this book--your interest in travel and culture will be squashed by his pessimism and opacity.

  • T. Scott
    2019-05-14 10:30

    This isn't a travel book or just a book about China. It's a book about the pain in the ass that travel can be and the annoying, obnoxious, petty and unpleasant people you meet along the way. These are all the things that make the book (and most of his others) interesting. He doesn't leave out the boring parts in between. He's a little bit of a curmudgeon and can sometimes be downright mean. Every road isn't rocky however, and he gives you a real sense of place; you can almost smell it.

  • Jrobertus
    2019-05-10 08:12

    Theroux is a great American travel writer. This is one of my favorites of the many I have read. The Iron Rooster is a Chinese train that carries him deep into the back waters of China in the mid 80s. His descriptions are both acrid and humane. Go figure.

  • Frank Noe
    2019-05-13 10:34

    This is the book that inspired me to take the Trans-Siberian train, basically traveling from Berlin to Hong Kong by train, in 1990.The core of the book discribes Paul's adventures spending nearly a year on the rails of China. I really enjoy his perceptions of people and local customs.

  • Sorin Hadârcă
    2019-04-30 02:13

    China by train is educational but uninspiring. I got the meaning of a hundred of Chinese Ha-Ha! but still wouldn't jump aboard that train. Except for Tibet. The last chapter outweighed the rest of the book.

  • Stacey
    2019-05-16 05:14

    One of the best travel writers out there. Theroux makes you want to overturn your desk, light your cube on fire and turn in your company ID...so you can get into the world and LIVE!

  • Richard Etzel
    2019-05-05 06:07

    1982, half dozen years after the death of Mao, I hooked up with a farmers group Kansas on a cultural exchange to China. What an experience that I shall never forget. Theroux's Riding the Iron Rooster brought back vivid memories of what I saw. We traveled from Shanghai to Beijing in 17 days by bus, train and air. He reminded me of the communes we visited, the schools, Freedom Stores (set up for tourists as a way to import foreign currencies used in trade with the rest of the world), factories, small workshops where hand made items available for purchase as souvenirs, and many more of the things one saw at that time traveling through China. The book takes you through Mongolia to Shanghai, Shanghai to Beijing, to the great wall, south to Canton and villages and cites near Hong Kong, west through the vastness of China to the national borders, and into Tibet. Half way through the book I began jotting down the names of the various cities he describes and looked for myself what the cities look like today on Google Earth. Modern pictures show the traffic, the buildings going up, city's growth!The book is long and at times tedious, but if you enjoy travel and like history it will help you understand what's happening in China today.

  • Adam
    2019-05-21 05:10

    If Rick Steves is your type of guide than this is not your book. Paul Theroux is the UN-romantic travel guide. Well he isn't really a guide. He is a man on a long vacation through Mongolia, China and Tibet. He is wonderful at telling stories within his book without making the book seem a collections of short stories. He suffers no fools and readily critques aspects of culture that he thinks are worthy of it. He does not hesistate to point out that sub standard education, or housing or even governement are not quaint idiosyncrasies of a developing nation. Paul Theroux will plainly tell you his that these things are awful, not National Geographic covers. There are times when I thought he just planned loathed people. When it seems that he cannot say anything but negative comments he twists the tale on it's head. That's when you realize that he is good at writing about when humans are bad, but he is fantastic at writing about when humans are good.

  • James
    2019-04-26 07:26

    This book fits right in between Theroux's first travel book and his last. It's sarcastic and caustic, but not to the extent of The Great Railway Bazaar (fortunately). It's also informative and provides fascinating insight into China, but not to the extent of Dark Star Safari regarding Africa (unfortunately). Ultimately, though, it's a unique, geographically comprehensive account of China that is highly entertaining, very descriptive, and generally fascinating. The highlights are the descriptions of the train between Chengdu and Kunming and the chapter on Tibet.

  • Joel
    2019-04-25 03:25

    Made me want to take a long trip on a train. Theroux makes a lot of comments about China that may have been true at the time, but which don't seem to be that true now -- what a difference 20 years makes. This book was written right before the events of 1989 (published in 1988), so the political stuff is really fascinating -- to see people's thoughts and attitudes about government just prior to that horriffic time.

  • Justianna Birzin
    2019-05-09 02:13

    I loved the way that China became geographically real to me while reading this book, and the fact that Paul Theroux refused to toe the party line during this trip in the early 80's. Anyone interested in what's happening to Tibetans can get a good sense of the problem in this book.

  • Alan
    2019-05-14 06:25

    Theroux in China. As always, sprinkled with his reflections, more than travel.

  • Rafa
    2019-05-14 03:22

    Básicamente, treinta años después, uno puede tener una idea muy clara de lo que es China,

  • Hanneke Römelingh
    2019-05-05 06:12

    Ik ben dik over de helft met dit boek. Heb nu al wel behoefte er wat over te schrijven. Kocht het voor een Euro in de kringloop. Ik vind het een ervaring om zo aan de hand van de schrijver deze reis te maken. Ik zou het zelf nooit en te nimmer hebben kunnen volbrengen. Ben dan ook blij dat ik me daar nooit aan gewaagd heb. Het zou een grote teleurstelling zijn geweest. Het boek is gedateerd. Speelt in de 80-er jaren. Mao is weg. De culturele revolutie is achter de rug. De schrijver probeert iets van China te begrijpen. Op alle mogelijke manieren wint hij informatie in. Tot zijn ergernis zijn er steeds personen die hem moeten vergezellen. Soms lukt het hem die van zich af te schudden. Zijn manier van reizen bevalt me wel. Vandaar dat ik op papier graag met hem meereis. Mij heeft die culturele revolutie, wat daar dan ook in het westen van bekend werd indertijd met stomheid geslagen. Snap dat Theroux daar ook mee bezig bleef, vooral zo kort nadat het stopte. (Ik las er o.a ook over in het boek van Chang Jung "wilde zwanen". Dat was in de 90-er jaren een enorme bestseller).Maar dat Theroux nu zo geweldig goed schrijft, vind ik weer niet. Hij schrijft wel dat hij langs mooie landschappen komt, maar op mij komt het toch over als een uitzichtloos en desolaat geheel. "Je zou er toch wonen" is wat bij mij telkens opkomt. Wat is het leven er hard, arm en saai. Nu is China natuurlijk verschrikkelijk groot, en ook al legt Theroux hele stukken af, het is maar een fractie ervan, wat hij desondanks te zien krijgt. Hoe dan ook, ik vond er tot nu toe niets terug van het landschap waar Rechter Tie van Robert van Gulik doorheen trok en evenmin kom ik er iets in tegen dat me doet denken aan het China van Kristoffer Schipper, een sinoloog, van wie ik de geschriften van Zhuang Zi bekeek, meer kan en mag ik dat niet noemen. Het China wat Theroux me toont, bevalt me totaal niet. En ook al vind ik Theroux een weinig interessante blik hebben waarmee hij alles om zich heen aanschouwt, hij denkt niet echt, hij voelt niet echt, hij beschrijft en verzamelt de nodige informatie in zijn dagboek, hij ondergaat m.n. is mijn indruk en ik reis met hem mee. Wat wist hij van China, voordat hij aan zijn reis begon? 13-10-'17Heb het boek net uitgelezen. Het laatste derde deel beviel me beter dan de twee derden ervoor. China werd interessanter, de kust en de plaatsen in het oosten van het land. En dan verder Tibet en de reis daarnaartoe. Theroux kwam ook lekkerder in zijn verhaal te zitten. Hij had het er meer naar zijn zin. Nogmaals, ben blij dat ik zelf die reis niet heb hoeven maken en dat hij dat voor mij deed. Slechts op een enkele plek zou ik zelf eventueel hebben willen zijn. Vond het vooral interessant om erover te lezen. Ook al beschrijft het een reis in de tachtiger jaren, kort na die afschuwelijke culturele revolutie, het boek maakt mij nieuwsgieriger naar het fenomeen China. Ik wil er meer over gaan lezen en filmpjes die ik eerder zag, voor de beelden op nieuw terug gaan zien.

  • magdalena dyjas
    2019-05-08 09:08

    it could've been a brilliant book, but unfortunately I've found it extremely patronising...

  • Patrick McCoy
    2019-05-21 02:13

    Once when I was telling a friend about all the troubles I had encountered during a visit to Myranmar in 2006, he responding by saying: "That sounds like a pain in the ass-my favorite kind of travel story." And I think I can agree with him, which is one of the biggest reasons I love to read Paul Theroux. My most recent voyage with Theroux was his 1983 visit to the middle kingdom, China in Riding The Iron Rooster. It has changed so much since then, in fact, my own first visit was in 2002, and my most recent visit was in May of 2015 and I think there was significant change in that interval as well. But I feel he captures the essence of China and the Chinese in many ways. He describes the "hoicking" and pitting that is my greatest memory from 2002-which I saw little of it in my most recent trip. Within the book there is almost a dissertation on the Chinese laugh that he comments on throughout the books as they are emitted from a variety of characters. But early on I think he identifies the general basis of the laugh: "The Chinese laugh is seldom funny-it is usually Ha-ha, we're in deep shit or Ha-ha, I wish you hadn't said that or Ha-ha, I've never felt so miserable in my life..."Here's another beauty from Chapter 8 "train Number 104 to Xian": "That was a ha-ha I hadn't heard before, and seemed to mean Death to the infidels." I also like his earnest distaste of the Chinese eating any and all animals-usually for perceives some medicinal purpose: "I was prepared to believe the Chinese had the herbal solutions to high blood pressure, and that acupuncture had its practical uses; but when they scrunched up a dead owl and said, yum, yum-good for your eyes, I wanted to say Bullshit. If I didn't, it was only because I didn't yet know the Chinese word for it."Then there was his incredulous analysis of the Chinese sending their skilled laborers to put up buildings in the Middle East, when those in China were so poorly constructed: "It was rather as though Poland were exporting chefs, and Australia sending elocution teachers to England, and Americans running classes in humility or the Japanese in relaxation techniques."Theroux finds a lot to dislike, but there were many things he did like such as old coastal China's seagoing communities. And near the end of the book where the reader is half expecting Theroux to end the trip early due to his miserable time in the north during winter, he falls in love with Tibet, and Lhasa in particular. I think he sums up the Chinese impact on Tibet well in this comment: "The Chinese have a fatal tendency to take themselves and their projects seriously. In this they resemble some other evangelizing races, spreading the word and traveling the world to build churches, factories, or fast-food outlets-the intention may be different in each case but they are all impositions. What the evangelizer in his native seriousness does not understand is that there are some people on earth who do not wish to be saved."I almost think Theroux stacked the deck by joining a group tour at the beginning of the book. I can't think of anyone less likely to enjoy a group tour than Theroux. To his credit, he was able to say that the people grew on him and some of them even manged to surprise him in the end. There was a great quote in the beginning of the book that I was unaware of that Theroux referenced from Henry David Thoreau's On Walden: "Consider the China pride and the stagnant self complacency of mankind." I didn't get as much reading inspiration form this book as other since he seemed to be reading a lot of literature related specifically to China, but early in the book he is reading Sinclair Lewis and singles out Elmer Gentry as a worthy read and the only one of the three novels he mentioned that I have not read (the other two being Mainstreet and Arrowsmith). It was interesting that he felt a connection to China via the cultural revolution when he was in the Peace Corps and thought he was starting a revolution himself-it says something about the young Theroux for sure. And it seems that he was way off by seeing the demonstrations that were taking place while he was there as insignificant, as well all know from the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacres that took place later. That being said, Theroux was entertaining and enlightening as usual.

  • Hannah
    2019-05-01 09:14

    I would summarise as a nice light read, however just over midway through I began to flag. Problem was at times the writing was very good but at other times it was quite repetitive and about 2/3 of the way in I began to feel Paul Theroux was continuing the journey for the sake of it. Certainly he seemed to have the kind of personality of doing things simply because you could (for example haggling with people with no intention of actually having a transaction). I also couldn’t stop my mind from wondering the family dynamic of a man who at the time had young children at home and chose to spend a year essentially aimlessly wandering.I had a problem warming to Paul, he seemed a lot of the time egotistical and a bit like he was going through the motions – he was a successful author of travel writing by this point so I suspect he might have gotten a tad lazy and stuck to a formula that has/had proved successful. Additionally he seemed a tad voyeuristic and certainly sadistic in the enjoyment he got from pushing some of his travel guides beyond their tolerance capabilities. Or perhaps he had just become overly selfish to his own needs from years of solitary travelling. I do however respect him for mentioning that a travel book is simply the authors experience and would not be the same for anyone else, even if they were right there with him in the moment. Additionally it was rather weird that I sensed more of Paul's enjoyment of China through the books that he chose to read than his own writing.For me the best part of the book was the natural and evolving weave of history within it. I learnt a lot of historical and cultural details that I don’t think I would have come across another way. I’m not sure this was the right Paul Theroux experience for me; I would like to try some of his earlier travel writing and see if it feels any different.

  • Steven Grimm
    2019-05-20 04:32

    I didn't expect a travelogue like this to have a villain, but it does: the Cultural Revolution. The book was written in the mid-1980s and that period is perhaps the single most frequent topic of conversation with the various people Theroux meets in his travels. I was left more convinced than ever of how much lasting damage that horrible idea did to Chinese society.Having been to a decent number of the places he visits, I found it fun to read what they were like a couple decades earlier, as well as get a vivid portrait of what China was like in general back then; some things have remained about the same and some are nearly unrecognizable now. I found some of his observations about Chinese behavior pretty insightful and others just puzzling, but frequently got a chuckle when he described something familiar.I found my interest flagging a bit in the second half of the book; it was getting to be a bit repetitive up until he set out for his final destination, the journey to which was pretty riveting stuff. The book just kind of stops rather than coming to any kind of narrative conclusion, which I found disappointing.Still, an entertaining read on the whole, a postcard from a time that'll never exist again.